Jays sign 16-year-old Venezuelan

BOB ELLIOTT, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:17 AM ET

TORONTO - Omar Vizquel signed with the Seattle Mariners for $2,500 US in 1984.

Henderson Alvarez was given a $55,000 bonus by the Blue Jays in 2006.

And on Tuesday, the first day international players could be signed, Ismael Cruz, head of Latin American operations, signed 16-year-old Venezuelan Franklin Barreto for $2 million, according to Baseball America's Ben Badler.

"I heard it was $1.7 million, I saw it in a Venezuelan paper," said Alvarez with the help of translator, Jays coach Luis Rivera.

Alvarez is from Valencia, and Barreto from Miranda.

Two years ago, Alvarez saw Barreto at a tryout camp.

"It's criminal the way he swings the bat," Alvarez said. "He can hit for power and has a real good arm."

Heading into signing day, Barreto was ranked the No. 1 prospect by Baseball America. 

"I was happy with my bonus, I wanted a chance to play," said Vizquel. "Times change. The year I signed, the largest bonus was $12,000 the California Angels gave outfielder Miguel Garcia. They later made him a pitcher."

Garcia appeared in 14 games with the Angels and the Pittsburgh Pirates, playing his final season at triple-A Ottawa in 1995.

Vizquel is scheduled to retire at the end of the this season, 18 seasons after Garcia pitched his last game. Down the road, Vizquel will be honoured in Cooperstown.

"Maybe I could have held out, asked for more money," Alvarez said. "But bonus money does not make you a big-leaguer."

Wow. 

Alvarez turned 22 in April, but has wisdom beyond his years.

Minnesota Twins first baseman Justin Morneau said the same a few years ago when Canadian players refused to sign for the slot money offered, pointing out "you make your money in the majors."

The Jays gave third baseman Balbino Fuenmayor $1.6 million in 2006. He's in his second season at class-A Vancouver after two seasons in the rookie-class Gulf Coast League and two-plus seasons at class-A Lansing.

That's not really an upwardly mobile plan.

Will Barreto be the next Vizquel, the next Fuenmayor or somewhere in between? 

Barreto, who trains with Ciro Barrios, a program which produced three Jays signs last year -- outfielders Wuilmer Becerra and Jesus Gonzalez, plus righthander Jesus Tinoco -- has been on the international stage since he was 10.

At the Pan American 12-and-under tourney in 2008, and later the 14-and-under championship, he earned MVP honours.

At the 16-and-under worlds he hit .515 with three homers and was 8-for-8 stealing bases.

"We liked him, but we didn't like him at that price," said one rival scout who covers Latin America. "He has dominated his age grouping."

Barreto's best assets are his bat, some say a future .300 hitter with 15-to-20 home run capability, and his speed. He has been compared to Rafael Furcal.

If centre field is his destination, scouts have compared him to Shane Victorino.

The Jays also signed Venezuelan shortstop Luis Castro, the No. 9 international prospect.

Castro played in the Junior Caribbean Series in 2011, then the 16-and-under worlds, where he hit .583 (14-for-24) with four doubles.

And the New York Yankees signed lefty Omar Luis, a Cuban defector, to a minor league deal with a $4 million bonus. The 5-foot-11, 205-pound Luis is 19.

He earned all-star honors at the worlds in Thunder Bay, Ont., in 2010, throwing 137 pitches in a complete-game shutout, fanning 10 against Canada. Later he threw 145 pitches in a 3-2 victory over Team USA.

BRIEFLY

The San Diego Padres have signed Toronto infielder Maxx Tissenbaum, who starred at Stony Brook University, for $100,000 US. Half of the 26 Canadians drafted have signed, including David Otterman of Coquitlam, B.C. (Brewers), Pickering's Eric Wood (Pirates) and London's Dayton Dawe (Yankees), who signed for $100,000 or more ... The Jays worked out infielder William DuPont, a high-schooler from Wildwood, Mo., who was their 16th-round pick, before Monday's game. He has signed a Letter of Intent to attend Mississippi State, where Windsor outfielder Jacob Robson and Oakville infielder Kyle Hann are also headed.


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